Year in Review: 2020 with Your SLSO

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

By Caitlin Custer


In a year unlike any other, your SLSO made music and memories. Take a look back at the orchestra's activities throughout 2020.

Youth Orchestra Turns 50

The St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra celebrated its 50th year throughout 2020. Current and former YO musicians performed a concert in early January, conducted by IN UNISON Chorus Director Kevin McBeth. To learn more about the exceptional youth orchestra program, watch November's Lunch & Learn with current and former YO musicians.

Composers of Today

Composer and St. Louis–native Kevin Puts visited the SLSO twice in the 19/20 season. The orchestra performed his Silent Night Elegy in February, which the SLSO co-commissioned. Puts also came to Powell Hall in September for the first classical concert of the season, which included his Virelai.

Never Met a Stranger

Stéphane tagged along to New Sunny Mount Church with an SLSO string quartet on a Sunday in February. IN UNISON Fellow Malena Smith joined the quartet of Melody Lee and Kristin Ahlstrom, violins, Shannon Williams, viola, and Yin Xiong, cello, to perform for the congregation as Stéphane listened along with church members.

Picture the Music

The annual Picture the Music contest was hosted by the tireless Symphony Volunteer Association in early March. Students listened to Aram Khachaturian's "Waltz," from Masquerade Suite and responded with artwork. Of the 12,200 participating students, 100 finalists were invited to Powell Hall for an awards ceremony.


Express the Music, a similar program that invited children to listen to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade and respond with poetry or prose, hosted its awards ceremony online, here.

Chorus Rehearsal

St. Louis Symphony Chorus Director Amy Kaiser kept her singers busy preparing to perform Hector Berlioz's demanding The Damnation of Faust. While this "high point of a musical life," as Amy put it, was the first SLSO event put on hold due to the pandemic, the orchestra hopes to offer it to audiences in a future season. Until then, Stéphane and Amy's insightful discussion on this major work is available as a Lunch & Learn video.

Instrument Playground Online

As the spring lockdown took effect and families suddenly found their homes turned into offices and classrooms, the SLSO put the finishing touches on its Instrument Playground Online, which had been in the works for many months. The project, sponsored by PNC Arts Alive, provides video introductions to the instruments of the orchestra as well as activities to do at home—perfect for parents and teachers looking for something engaging and educational.

#SLSOatHome

SLSO musicians took part in the #SLSOatHome project, recording short videos of music, laughter, and hope in the early months of the pandemic.

Lunch & Learn

Previously an in-person event, the SLSO shifted its Lunch & Learn series online. The monthly talk features musicians and artistic leadership of the orchestra discussing topics such as Movie Music and Composers of Today. You can watch past videos and register for future Lunch & Learns here.

Arts United STL

To support local working artists and the Regional Arts Commission's Artist Relief Fund, the SLSO joined the Arts United STL project. The virtual benefit included a drone flight through Powell Hall, an SLSO performance of Leonard Bernstein's "Make Our Garden Grow," from Candide, with former Resident Conductor Gemma New, and many more performances by other St. Louis artists and institutions. Watch the full event here.

Songs of America

In the lead up to Independence Day on July 4, the SLSO released its video series Songs of America. The series showcases the spirit that makes St. Louis unique and features SLSO musicians performing moving works celebrating the breadth of voices in American music.

SLSO On the Go

Eager to perform for live audiences once again, SLSO musicians embarked on a month-long concert campaign called SLSO On the Go. This series of limited-capacity, outdoor pop-up concerts brought chamber music and solo performances to locations throughout the region several times per week, from parks, to medical centers, to your neighborhood.

Spick and Span

As temperatures turned cool, a cautious return to concerts at Powell Hall was underway. Thanks to a team of medical experts and city health department officials, the hall was studied and dozens of steps were taken to meet the highest standards of health and safety for all inside the building. For both musicians and audiences, the small, masked, socially distanced numbers did not hinder the incredible inspiration the concerts provided.

Fall at the Hall

Music Director Stéphane Denève returned to St. Louis to conduct two weeks of live chamber concerts. The first concert featured Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, "Eroica," which Stéphane said "is full of hope, and is the right piece to begin making music together again."

Following Stéphane's concerts, several small ensembles of SLSO musicians gave a chamber music series of 12 concerts over two weeks, showcasing their incredible musicality and drive to provide transformative experiences for our St. Louis community.

A Tough November

As community spread rates rose, the SLSO shifted once again and put planned live concerts on hold in the interest of everyone's health and safety. One adjustment that's more difficult to make, though, is the loss of longtime arts critic Sarah Bryan Miller to cancer. Miller's voice was unparalleled in the region, and her reporting was a major part of what set the SLSO on a path to the financial stability and creative programming it is known for today.

Music, Family, and Traditions

The SLSO appointed Stephanie Childress as Assistant Conductor and Music Director of the Youth Orchestra. At just 21 years old, Stephanie is a rising star in Europe, and the SLSO is eager to welcome her to St. Louis in the spring and experience her excitement and passion for connection through music.


Stéphane returned to St. Louis once more in 2020 to conduct several video projects utilizing a new, high-quality camera system in the hall. First among them is Songs of the Holidays presented by Mercy, a series featuring familiar and beloved tunes alongside unique pieces for the special occasions we joyfully celebrate during the winter season.


Caitlin Custer is the SLSO's Communications Manager.